Pearl Takes Control of the State
“There are some places where you win and they don’t count any different in the win/loss column, but they just matter more. Even when I was at Tennessee, it mattered because of the rivalry, particularly in football. Coming to Auburn, it really mattered,” Pearl said.
In this case, it mattered a whole lot. Both programs are getting better and fast. Avery Johnson has been every bit as impressive in rebuilding Alabama. Not since Sonny Smith and Wimp Sanderson stood courtside have these programs looked so promising at the same time.
Auburn’s second win over Alabama in two weeks is concrete evidence that Pearl’s rebuilding effort is working. A post-season berth will do wonders for this freshman-heavy squad. While the NCAA tournament is a long shot, the NIT is now in the crosshairs for Pearl. Like getting a bowl bid and having extra practice days, the same benefits apply to this team.
Pearl could hardly hold his excitement after the win. Asked whether he’d dwell on his bunch nearly blowing a 15-point second-half lead, he quickly batted the question away, choosing to focus only on the positive.
Such is the tightrope a coach must walk when guiding a bunch of 18-year-olds through the meat of an SEC schedule. Looking at size alone, the game appeared to be a mismatch. Alabama is huge. Auburn is fast. Speed won the day. Somewhere Gus Malzahn was smiling.
“Our kids made big shots,” Pearl said. “We knew we had to knock down the 3-ball because of how big they are, so we went small at four for almost the whole game. It paid off. It paid dividends.”
Sitting at 15–8 overall and 4–6 in SEC play, Auburn has its work cut out. Mississippi State comes to town on Tuesday, followed by a trip to Ole Miss. Next week, Florida pays a visit to Auburn Arena.
Pearl loves to talk about the grind of the SEC. Right now, he seems to be getting the best of it with his freshmen. Far from where he wants this team, watching the progress since November has been pure pleasure. Frustrating at times, sure. But watching teams get better with every game is what makes us love sports.
Basketball is fun again.